Years I’ve Slept Right Through

John James

The field is steeped with the violence of horses.Night descends blue hillsand I attempt to weigh distance,as a calf tests its footing to the water hole.On the front porch, my cat devours a hummingbird.He beats the brilliant body with his tufted paws.He breaks its wings,swallows whole the intricate bone-house.Inside, the pilot light is burning.My sister’s friend with the coal-eyes is over.Gradually, I crawl into bed, aching for more light.In the dooryarda young boy stoops to pluckfeather from feather until his hands are sore.So prone to sadness, this thief—I take my glasses off and lay them on the table.The shadow of a tree rests inside my palm.This spring I commemorate my father’s deathby tacking deer-horns above the door.My hammer-strokes dispersean assembly of hens,waiting around for me to scatter their seed.A mile away the river is abundant.It breaks its sudden excesson a limestone bridge.A big-axled wagon tips into the water,where white mud washes the coachman clean.This is a custom he repeats every year,coming and going until his wheels give out,coming to wet his tongue.Dawn chalks over the horizonrendering the sky a storm-blotched red.The outline of a cow appears on the hilland then dissolves into the fog.I follow her path with my ear,listening as a bell sounds out the trail—It is mine, this worldof bread and skin and stone.Lay me in the field with all the fallen horses.

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John James is the author of The Milk Hours (Milkweed, 2019), selected by Henri Cole for the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, as well as two chapbooks, most recently Winter, Glossolalia (Black Spring Press Group, 2022). His poems appear or are forthcoming in Boston Review, Kenyon Review, New England Review, PEN Poetry Series, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere, and his work has been supported by fellowships and awards from the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, the Academy of American Poets, and the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice at Georgetown University. He is completing a PhD in English at the University of California, Berkeley.

"'A city can't run from itself.. try it & see how far you get.' True enough, poet Erin Keane. But can anyone pin a city down? Can someone bring in three-dozen voices that limn Louisville's limits as precisely but in more dimensions as all the 'You Are Entering' signs around its perimeter? Joy Priest accepted the challenge, editing the new anthology Once a City Said. Among her own contributions is a barefaced and bitter contemplation of the racial divide between her father and her grandfather. In themed sections, the book considers the convoluted history of evolving neighborhoods and neighbors, the pleasures and confoundedness of local culture and traditions."
—T.E. Lyons, LEO Weekly

Once A City Said is not only overflowing with brilliance and beauty in terms of language, world-crafting, and a harmonious collision of voices, but it is also a work overflowing with generosity. To offer a reader the breadth of talent that a place can hold is to allow a reader to restructure that place in their own world. This is a mighty collection of work that I believe will endure for generations.”
—Hanif Abdurraqib, New York Times-bestselling author of Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest

“Louisville represent! I’m excited to see that Joy Priest has compiled a textured range of contemporary River City voices that capture the traditions, protests, memories, and spirit that is uniquely Louisville. This anthology is an engaging read that spans voices, styles, and experiences. A wonderful accomplishment that says once and for all that Louisville has its own dazzling slice of Kentucky’s literary legacy.”
—Crystal Wilkinson, Kentucky’s Poet Laureate and author of Perfect Black

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